Photo Credit Ironbridge Gorge WHS

Improving flood defences at Ironbridge WHS – a case study

March 23, 2022 Published by World Heritage UK

The area around central Ironbridge has seen the highest river levels since 2000 and these levels have happened two years in a row causing severe flooding throughout the World Heritage Site.

Due to the devastating effects of flooding in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, Telford and Wrekin Council issued an open letter to the Environment Secretary, George Eustice in February 2021. The letter stated “Less than one year after the devastating impact of storm Dennis in February 2020, sadly Telford & Wrekin Council is writing to you again to confirm that our communities along the length of the River Severn have flooded once again. The frequency of these events is without doubt increasing and with the effects of climate change, we can only expect this situation to get worse.

The letter goes on to say “This reoccurrence is having a detrimental impact on economic activity in the area but also the internationally important World Heritage Site and birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Telford and Wrekin Council, in supporting our residents and businesses, can typically spend up to £300,000 each time the barriers are deployed in responding to flooding along this 6km length of River in this World Heritage Site.

The letter outlined the issues that flooding presents but the overall impact on the World Heritage Site cannot be understated. Flood waters caused significant damage to several listed buildings along the river, some are still having conservation work undertaken. Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust have recently reported that parts of their museum displays and exhibitions are also being removed altogether due to rotten timbers following the ingress of water. The finance to replace these leaving less funding for vital conservation work on the historic estate in their care.

Destination Tourism is also fundamental in ensuring revenue for organisations in the Ironbridge Gorge. Visitor confidence was significantly affected by the flooding with visitor numbers to the World Heritage site plummeting in periods during and after the floods. This missing income for organisations across the World Heritage Site leaves them in a difficult position, some choosing to leave their businesses, some not having the funds to carry out work to repair their properties. This ripple effect has a lasting affect on the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site and reduces appeal for tourists, risking a vicious circle. The Environment Agency are currently working to improve the flood defences in Ironbridge.